Last night, the Carnival Magic dumped a large amount of toxic emissions residue collected from the vessel’s so called “Advanced Air Quality System” into the water in Grand Turk as it was preparing to continue on its cruise in the Caribbean. Several passengers aboard the Carnival cruise ship, who were apparently confused with what they observed, mistakenly called the scrubber discharge a “giant oil slick” or an “oil spill.”

Photo credit: @chuck_richards via Twitter

Carnival said in a press release, published by the popular Cruise Radio and the Cruise Hive cruise fan sites, that the accidental discharge was the result of what it is calling a “soot discharge” from the ship’s “Exhaust Gas Control Systems (EGCS).”

Carnival’s EGCS are commonly called “scrubbers” which are used to try and remove non-combustible particles such as soot, incompletely burned oil, and ash, from its emission stacks. A scrubber works by spraying alkaline water (usually seawater) into the vessel’s exhaust stacks, which is designed to reduce carbon, sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions, and non-combustible particles from bunker fuel from the ship’s engine exhaust gases.  Carnival has decided that it is cheaper to use such systems rather than purchase more expensive low sulfur fuel.

Carnival heavily promotes the use of scrubbers throughout its fleet including ships operated by its numerous brands. It euphemistically calls scubbers “A Clean Solution for Air and Water.

The pollutants which scrubbers remove from the air are called “scrubber sludge” or simply “sludge,” which are accurate descriptions of the toxic mix of metals, such as lead, nickel and zinc, as well as hydrocarbons, sulfur, and nitrogen compounds. In the “open loop” systems commonly used by Carnival, the toxic and acidic sludge is then dumped back into the ocean. Read more about the problem of scrubber sludge: Smoke and Mirrors: Cruise Line Scrubbers Turn Air Pollution Into Water Pollution

Many people call scrubbers “emissions cheat” systems which are designed to avoid the shipping industry having to buy cleaner, more expensive fuel. The Guardian newspaper called them an  “environmental dodge.” In the most used system, known as “open loop,” the waste water is discharged into the ocean. “Scrubbers effectively turn air pollution into water pollution,” says Kendra Ulrich, of environmental group

This is not the first time that we have seen scrubber sludge dumped from a Carnival Corporation-owned cruise ship. In August of 2018, Princess Cruises’ Star Princess cruise ship discharged sludge from its exhaust system scrubbers in the port of Ketchikan, Alaska according to the city of Ketchikan, as originally reported by  KRBD Community Radio. KRBD also reported that the city received complaints by the public of an earlier similar discharge from the Golden Princess while in Ketchikan. We wrote about the dumping of scrubber sludge from the Carnival Corporation-owned ship at the time.

Scrubber Sludge from Star Princess in Ketchikan, Alaska

Princess Cruises responded to an article in Travel Weekly about the disgusting incident in Alaska by claiming that what is shown in the photographs was just “sea foam discolored by natural microorganisms such as algae in the seawater.”

When Carnival Corporation and its subsidiaries were under probation for felony pollution crimes from 2016 to 2021, the Court Appointed Monitor submitted several reports to the senior federal judge that Carnival was routinely violating probation by its discharges of wash water to the sea from its “Advanced Air Quality Systems.”

The irony is that although this incident was apparently inadvertent, Carnival routinely dumps this nasty sludge into the water around the world. It is my impression that most people who cruise are not aware of these environmental cheat devices used by Carnival (and other brands) to continue to burn cheaper, high sulfur fuels, nor are they aware that cruise ships routinely discharge toxic waste water residue from scrubbers as the ships sail. What happened yesterday on the Carnival Magic was obviously an accident to the extent that so much sludge was dumped at once in the water at port as opposed to being slowly discharged at sea and away from shore where it would not be observed so readily.

.In the Travel Weekly article cited above, the magazine reported that cruise ship scrubbers “produce a surprising amount of waste: An average seven-day cruise on a big ship can yield two to five tons of scrubber sludge, said Brian Salerno, senior vice president for maritime policy at CLIA.”

There is a noticeable difference in slowly emptying the scrubber sludge tanks over the course of a week long cruise in the Caribbean before returning to port in Florida and inadvertently dumping five tons of sludge all at once at a port before a boatload of guests with iPhones.

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Image Credit: Cover photos – Carnival Magic scrubber sludge – Chuck Richards and Cruise Radio compilation via Twitter; Scrubber sludge – Star Princess – City of Ketchikan; Carnival Magic – Jonathan Palombo – CC BY 2.0 commons / wikimedia.